25 August 2011

Book Review: Daily Life in China in the XIII century, by Jacques Gernet, *****

Gengiz Khan and Chinese Tangut envoys
This book deals with one of the periods when China, then numbering sixty million inhabitants, was the richest and most powerful empire in the world. (Another such period would occur some 500 years later, and another one might be soon in the making.)

During the Sung dynasty the country flourished, even though wealth was far from evenly distributed, and the excesses of a small minority contributed to a worsening balance of payments and eventual weakening of the economy.


This empire would take a beating because of the Mongols' invasion in 1276, but up to then it was an even more impressive China than that Marco Polo would witness several decades later.

The capital was in Hangzhou, a port city near today's Shanghai, and its commercial fleet plied the seas exporting porcelain and silk. There was also relative peace, despite the fact that the Northern provinces had been lost already to the Mongols, who were held out for a while until Gengiz Khan invaded.

The book is written in scholarly academic style, but its flowing prose remains accessible to the non specialist as well. Buy this book on Amazon!

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